Pope Francis waves to well-wishers after a mass in Tacloban, Philippines, back in January.
Pope Francis waves to well-wishers after a mass in Tacloban, Philippines, back in January. - 
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Climate change has been discussed as a matter of science, regulations, and, of course, markets. Pope Francis is trying to reframe the subject in terms of common morality.

Ever hear of the famous door-hanger study? More than 1,000 families got different messages on their doors about saving energy and why. Some door hangers said do it for the planet. Others, for their kids' future. Or to save money.

The only doorhanger to spark change said, "Do it because your neighbors do."

The power of the tribe. Go against it, and you can have a problem.

"The problem of being ostracized from your tribe," said Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman from South Carolina. Former because he betrayed his tribe on climate change — and other issues — and was not re-elected.

He says the climate issue is socially expensive for conservatives, who frame it a certain negative way.

"It's sort of in the milieu of death and guilt, and 'perhaps we should all walk and eat bug,'" he said. "I mean, that's how conservatives perceive the conversation."

Into this conversation walks Pope Francis. Who could reframe the issue by effectively introducing a new tribe. Not a political one, but a moral one.

"The pope can give particularly conservative Catholics tribal protection to say that, 'of course we accept the science, of course we believe there are solutions to be found,'" Inglis said.

Already though, key conservative lawmakers have distanced themselves from the pope on climate.

For them, his message may be too counter-tribal.

"Suppose you're one of the 11 Catholic Republican senators," said economist Steve Cicala of the University of Chicago. "And the pope delivers this message. It's delivered in the midst of a message that is very strongly anti-markets, anti-capitalist."

Others say wait until the pope speaks to the masses in Washington and beyond. Perhaps his message will pose a new door-hanger question:  Will you change your energy and environment behavior because your neighbors do? Or because the head of your church does? 

Follow Scott Tong at @tongscott